Unofficial Flows of Communication

Is Everyone Up to Speed?

Unofficial flows of communication within bureaucracy are, well, unofficial. As such, they are difficult if not impossible to pin down in any systemic way. Best guess is that unofficial channels of information do several things: they are convenient, likely interactive with feedback, have the danger of missing out on letting certain people in the department know what is going on, and leave no paper trail. All of these features have an up side to it and a down side. Office dynamics often place a crucial role in the healthiness of unofficial flows of communication. Nevertheless, the twenty-one organizational charts for the City of St. Catharines back in 1994 clearly fall into linear patterns of hierarchical control.

Work reports are quite linear. The information moves from lead hand to foreman, to senior clerk, to manager, to director and then to the City Administrator. So far so good. Straight forward chain of command.

Understandably there are weekly meetings of all department heads. Copies of departmental reports are discussed. Reports which are going to be cancelled are reviewed and reports for information purposes are given. Specific developments on an issue which need to be voted on are brought forward.

Tom Derek, City Clerk in 1994, received all correspondence and passed grant requests on to the various departments and other matters which arise. It is the City Clerk’s department which prepares all information for city council meetings.

Hiring, firing and disciplining for the departments is centralized in the personnel department. They take on an advisory position in the case of grievence meetings and in disciplining meetings. Yet, managers do have a say in who is hired, fired, and disciplined. The supervisor/manager interviews the applicant with the personnel officer to ensure that the interview is fair and consistant among all applicants. The supervisor reviews the specific job requirements which had been listed with the job title. The hierarchy is explained so they know the chain of command.

We can see the stove pipe model of governance which Sheila Copps referred to in Worth Fighting For and I referenced in a previous blog. Input from workers “on the bottom” of the hierarchy to improve and integrate the system is lacking.

The clerical and technical workers are unionized. Postings are thus primarily made on a seniority basis and not necessarily according to the best person for the job. There are always thorough documented interview processes in case the decision concerning the choice of who is promoted goes to arbitration. Consistancy of questions and the presentation of questions helps to offset problems of accusations of unfair hiring practices later by the union. This interview time may be the only opportunity for the personnel officer to meet the employee.

The job description for each job is very specific. To avoid inflexibility the last requirement has a catch-all phrase “to perform other related duties.” This gives the employers and supervisors some latitude in making requests of an employee and in expecting the employee to comply as part of the job.

The senior clerk of the engineering department coordinates the work of the engineering team. There are coordinating functions in the Parks and Recreation Department as well as party chiefs who survey crews. There is no hint of creative interplay between departments for future policy planning. Considering that both “Parks” and “Recreation” are integral to a healthy lifestyle both in ecology and physical fitness, this older administrative model that harked from a more physically active society is not adequate to our present needs.

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